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August 10, 2023

Dear Peer

By Lydia Love
Lydia Love Author: Lydia Love

In simplest terms, privilege can be defined as an unearned advantage or benefit made to a person or group of people. Most often, race-based privilege (white privilege) is the first thing that comes to mind when discussing privilege but there are several areas of privilege that can include class/economic inequalities, family structure, straight and cisgender, disabilities and ableism, and male privilege.

In exploring our own privilege and disadvantages, I participated in a well-known exercise known as the privilege walk. I stood in a horizonal line next to my peers, and we either stepped either forward or backward if a prompt applied to us.

This is a letter addressed to my peer who took no steps back.

Dear Peer,

I watched you proudly take a step forward for one or both of your parents graduating college and thought of my high school drop out parents.

I watched you take a step forward because you studied the history of your ancestors in middle school, and I thought about how much I learned about your ancestors but didn't learn anything about mine.

I watched you take a step forward because you were certain that you would not be followed, harassed, or watched closely while shopping and I thought about how closely I was watched but never acknowledged.

You may not have noticed, but I took several steps back. I took a step back for being the first person in my immediate family to graduate college. Another for being the only person of color in a classroom and place of employment. Another for being a first generation American and another for growing up in an economically disadvantaged home.

My head lowered and my eyes started to water as I kept taking steps back and you continued to take steps forward. In the end, we are still in the same room, but you are one foot in the next doorway, and I am just one foot in the door. I am ashamed and embarrassed. You probably are too.

You remind me that you didn't ask for privileges, and I remind you that I didn't ask for disadvantages but the difficult dialogue that followed the silence is where we both recognized how privilege can affect our lives. Privilege can be invisible but now you can physically see just how far ahead you are than me. I worked hard to get here but I need your help to move forward, and I am hopeful that you will consider helping me.

Understand your own privilege. The reality is that everyone has privilege, and everyone has disadvantages. It is your responsibility - not my responsibility or the responsibility of other marginalized groups - to understand how your unique privileges interact in systems of oppression and how you can change the structures that create the distance between us.

Be my ally. Be empathetic and support me and others that don't share the same personal privilege as you. Listen to me, learn about me, mentor me, advocate for me and share awareness.

Participate in employee resource groups (ERG's) and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committees alongside me. If our organization does not have an ERG or DEI committee, take the necessary steps to help me form one. ERG's and DEI committees can be effective tools for advocating for the various issues that affect me such as recognition of all holidays - both religious and cultural, use of gender neutral and inclusive language, recruitment of diverse candidates like me, and appropriate nursing rooms for mothers like me.

Commit to learning. Learning about privilege and other diversity, equity, and inclusion related topics is not accomplished by participating in one privilege walk or training session, reading an article, or attending a webinar. A commitment to learning should be ongoing and continuous and the responsibility falls on you to educate yourself.

Advocate and amplify. Show up for me. Use your power and influence to share the stage with me. Encourage me to share my thoughts in meetings, recognize and address when I am unfairly omitted, and give me credit when credit is due. Recommend me and other women, BIPOC and other underrepresented peers for new learning opportunities, promotions, board opportunities, speaking engagements and new projects. Speak up when you hear someone say something offensive or degrading to or about me.

Stay the course. We must remain consistent and intentional in our quest for change. We have a unique platform that transcends all backgrounds and differences, and we can leverage it to dismantle the oppressive structures that separate us. Mistakes will be made but together, we can work to promote equitable - not equal - behavior and best practices to ensure that I don't get left behind.

Yours truly, Your Marginalized Peer

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